The Red Deer Rebels are halfway home, yet they realize that the rest of the journey will be nothing less than arduous.
The Rebels hung on for a 3-2 win over the Prince Albert Raiders before 5,852 fans Saturday at the Centrium to assume a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final. The series continues Tuesday and Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
“For starters, it takes four games to win a series. We’ve done what we had to do at home with two wins, now we have to go to their building and play well there,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Saturday’s game, unlike Friday’s 3-0 Red Deer win, was in doubt to the end despite the fact the Rebels raced out to a three-goal lead. Jonas Knutsen cut Red Deer’s cushion to 3-1 with a late second-period goal and Shane Danyluk batted a bouncing puck past Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak midway through the third period to pull the visitors to within one.
“They’re a very good team that will continue to push and they found a way to get a couple of goals and get themselves back into the game,” said Sutter. “At the same time, we certainly had some quality scoring chances that we didn’t capitalize on.
“It was a hard-fought game between two teams that are evenly matched. It’s one day and one game at a time at this time of the year.”
The Rebels led 1-0 just 2:35 into the contest when fourth-liner Cody Thiel netted his second goal of the series, jamming the puck past P.A. netminder Luke Siemens from a scramble.
Defenceman Mathew Dumba blew a power-play point shot past Siemens a mere 47 seconds into the middle frame and Rhyse Dieno, with his second in two nights, buried his own rebound just under six minutes later.
“You have home ice advantage for a reason,” said Dumba. “We had to get both games here and it was great to pull out another one in front of the home fans tonight.”
The Rebels, despite giving up a pair of goals, were actually better defensively that was the case in Friday’s shutout win.
“Even when we were up 3-0 tonight we knew that we had to keep playing hard, that our defensive play was going to be huge,” said Dumba. “We knew that they (Raiders) were going to come out hard and really bear down hard and we did a great job of bearing down on our part. We took a lot of lanes away with good sticks and finishing bodies and just being hard on pucks in general.”
For the second night in succession, the Rebels’ penalty killing was stellar. Prince Albert’s power play is now zero-for-10 in the series.
“That was a huge part of our game, just like last night,” said Dumba, who was part of a three-for-three Red Deer penalty kill in the first period. “Coming into the second period we knew that we couldn’t afford to take penalties, that it was going to catch up to us. We were determined to be more disciplined and we didn’t take any more penalties after that.”
Siemens was excellent while making 38 saves for the Raiders, while Bartosak turned in his second consecutive clutch performance, turning aside 36 shots.
“Last night a lot of our players were hesitant, especially when Red Deer scored early,” said Raiders head coach Steve Young, in reference to Brooks Maxwell’s marker 25 seconds into Game 1. “Tonight we got better as the game went on and now we have to carry that into Prince Albert, for sure.
“I thought we did better things tonight than the night before and those are things we have to build on. We have to stay positive, we anticipated a long series. We’re going home now to a smaller building with a good atmosphere. The fans are appreciative there.
“It’s been an evenly-matched series to this point. We have to give Red Deer credit because they’ve won two games, but now we just have to get back at it.”
The Rebels, who lost in overtime and in a shootout during their two regular-season trips to Prince Albert this winter, know they’ll be in tough to sneak two or even one win out of enemy territory.
“We need to play a certain way to have success, whether it’s at home or on the road. We have to play the right way and do things the right way,” said Sutter.
Added Dumba: “For sure, we feel good, but at the same time we know they’re going to come out and play hard at home. They’re down 2-0 and they’re going to have their home fans behind them. We know that they can score and have skill and we just have to come out and keep working hard . . . keep battling.”
Game 5, if required, will be played Friday at the Centrium. Rogers Sportsnet is scheduled to televise the game which will push the start time to 8 p.m.
Six and seventh games, if needed, will be played Sunday at Prince Albert and two nights later in Red Deer.